Art Columns Film

ArtScape: The power of Happy; see the documentary on Feb. 23

(Featured photo is from fall October 2020 of the artist known as Porkchop with his parents and sister. Columns often contain opinion.)

That giant mural outside Tire City Potters on 10th Street; the smiling robot stickers around town; those cute buttons people wear on their clothing.

Photo courtesy Leonard Zimmerman Jr.

If you’re new to town, you may not know the story behind the robot with the grin, but there is one and on Feb. 23, you can find out at a screening of a documentary called “Happy: A Small Film with a Big Smile,” at 7 p.m. at Augusta University’s Maxwell Theatre.

I’m writing this in a first-person column because “Happy” is part of my story too, and I appear in the film.

 It’s about my brother, Leonard Zimmerman, who many people around town simply call “Porkchop.” He’s the driving force of “Happy;” a man who has had his own struggles with depression, yet still wants to see others smile.

He’s also one of the most prolific mural painters in downtown Augusta, painting more than a dozen around town including “Augusta I Love You” and the one inside the children’s department at the downtown Augusta Library.

“Happy” doesn’t mean that life is a bed of roses without hardships; just as Augusta Good News doesn’t mean that life is all rainbows and unicorns in Augusta.

Without giving the film completely away, my brother had been in a place of deep grief discovered the healing power of art and then realized how art can bring joy to others.

I’ve seen the power of “Happy” first-hand.

I wear “Happy” buttons. I have them on the lapels of my dress coat and jean jacket. I wear them on my lanyard with my press badge.

Often people will comment on them. I try to keep an extra on hand or wear one that I know I have extras of.

Two instances really stick out.

I was in the grocery store a few years ago, and the cashier said she liked my buttons. I took one of them off and handed it to her. She seemed shocked, and I watched as the tears formed in her eyes when I gave it to her.

 A few weeks ago, I was in the grocery store and the cashier remarked about the buttons I was wearing.

For some reason, “Thanks that’s my brother,” came out of my mouth.

She responded “Isn’t Porkchop awesome?” with a big smile.

A few of the buttons from over the years. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

I noticed she didn’t have a button. I felt in my pockets – nothing there. So, I went to my car to find an extra button, and when I took it back, she smiled broadly she put it on her vest and said she wouldn’t take it off.

“Happy” has been around the world. I’ve personally taken stickers to the Bahamas and the UK. I placed one next to David Bowie’s mural in Brixton (but I didn’t stick it on the mural). Leonard did a special “Happy” button and sticker in honor of the singer.

And I know others have spread “Happy” as well.

When I tell people the story behind the buttons, some people don’t get it, and that’s o.k. because not everyone will, but for those who’ve kept “Happy” going for 11 years now – thank you.

Thank you for the smiles and for giving them away and bringing just a little light into someone else’s life.

If you want to know more. Come see the film; it’s free.

A parade was part of the “Happy” documentary which will air at Augusta University Feb. 23. Photo courtesy Leonard Zimmerman Jr.

Michael Patrick McKinley, who made the film after hearing my brother’s TED talk, will be at the event and Steven Uhles, former columnist with The Augusta Chronicle, will participate in a Q&A after the screening.

 Don’t forget the tissue because there could be tears.

And yes, there will be a special button in honor of the night.

If you can’t make the documentary, which won several awards at film festivals across the country, then you can catch “Happy” here.

One last note. If you want some free Happy stickers, mail him a return envelope that has already been addressed and has a stamp on it to Happy, P.O. Box 501, Augusta 30903, and he’ll drop them in the mail for you.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here. 

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